Fear is the operative word as election hour closes in, appropriately on the heels of Halloween.
President George W. Bush is fear-mongering, we're told. Using scare tactics by invoking the specter of terrorists. Manipulating voters' amygdalae - those would be your little fear-producing lizard brains - to inspire a riot at the ballot box.
Democrats are especially offended by a Bush ad that features wolves, suggesting that snarling, salivating predators are circling while the United States is distracted.
The ad apparently has been effective, though no one bothers mentioning why. Because it rings true, that's why. The ad resonates in spite of our lizard-stifling impulses precisely because it reflects what we're up against: not a rational, cerebral enemy, but something animal, something primitive, something horrible to consider.
Under the circumstances, fear seems spot-on. Yet, from the elite left comes the supercilious commentariat to inform us that those who support Bush's vision - essentially to advance freedom and democracy in a world that incubates hatred and despair - are unevolved throwbacks.
Columnist Arianna Huffington, for example, recently wrote that the only way to explain why Bush is still standing is the lizard-brain factor. She got this idea from a friend - "a brilliant writer and filmmaker" - who directed her to a Harvard-trained psychiatrist.
It is virtually impossible for anyone who is not a brilliant writer and filmmaker or a Harvard-educated psychiatrist to grasp such trenchant insights, so listen up, Lizard Brains.
The deal is this: Your country was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, and several Americans and others have been kidnapped and beheaded by maniacs wearing Halloween costumes who otherwise want to enslave you. Consequently, you're a little nervous.
It occurs to you that killing these lunatics - and defusing states that support them - before they kill you and your children makes quality sense. Essentially you're wondering whom you can best trust to execute that concept - George W. Bush or John F. Kerry?
That, after all, is the essential question. Debating whether to socialize medicine or privatize Social Security or resolve whether a kid gets left behind by an educational system that advances illiterates to avoid ACLU-backed lawsuits are luxuries of the living.
To the extended-pinkie crowd, however, fear is a primitive reflex that you, had you gone to Harvard, would be able to control long enough to vote for Kerry. Given that some of you intend to vote for Bush proves only that you're not rational.
"It's not about left wing vs. right wing," writes Huffington. "It's about left brain vs. right brain." And then she explains that the amygdala, the fear-generating portion of the brain (a.k.a. lizard brain), clicks into survival mode when you're threatened. The reflexive process is set in motion: fight, flight or freeze.
Huffington explains that Americans' support for Bush constitutes an infantile dependence on authority (Daddy) to protect us from danger.
To which one is compelled to respond: Damned tootin'.
No one but the most die-hard partisan goes to the polls Tuesday without a trace of doubt. Bush has been an imperfect leader, especially as concerns the war's aftermath. It seems clear now that no one planned adequately for the mess we're in.
On the other hand, it is too soon to adjudge Iraq a mistake. If we had the patience of our enemies, we wouldn't yet have begun to take measure of these events. To an enemy that bides time by centuries, the battle is barely begun.
Meanwhile, Kerry hasn't managed to make the case that he's more likely to improve matters. He has a "plan," but even he doesn't seem to know what it is. His assurances that other nations will join us if he's elected, that the United Nations will come to our aid, that other leaders prefer him to Bush, are anything but assuring.
The United Nations is weak on credibility these days given its involvement in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal, in which essentially the fox and hens were partying together. As for the support of other nations and leaders, do we really care that North Korea's butcher in chief and Saddam's Baathists prefer Kerry? "Beheaders for Kerry," now there's a bumper sticker for the family Humvee.
Whichever way the election goes, one thing is true: The wolves are out there and they are circling. While we're enjoying the privilege of determining our own fate, we might recall that we weren't afraid on Sept. 10, 2001.
When the wolves are circling, it sometimes makes sense to think like a wolf. At such times, primitive fear may be the only rational response.